‘Survival is not negotiable’: youth climate ambassador

The youth climate ambassador to the Maldives is not happy with the Copenhagen accord.

“World leaders should be role models and should have worked harder to reach a legally binding accord,” says 15 year-old Mohamed Axam Maumoon, who returned to the Maldives last week after meeting world leaders at the COP 15, including Danish Prime Minister Lars Loeke Rasmussen.

“I stressed the point about finance,” Axam recalls. “Money should not be considered an important factor when talking about survival, because survival is not negotiable; everyone has a right to live.”

Selected from the international ranks of the youth climate ambassadors, Axam was given the opportunity to ascend the podium and present the Maldives’ case to the world during the early days of the COP15 last week.

“I had given speeches before and I was trying to feel same way as before so I’d be comfortable, blocking out the media and looking at people directly,” he says. “Afterwards, I was thrilled when everyone stood up to clap, and I handed our declaration to the Danish Prime Minister.”

“I hope I moved people in some way by what I had to say about the sad state of the Maldives,” he says. “When people hear these things from children it makes a big difference because it is more emotional – I don’t believe I spoke to enough people.”

Children, he argued at the summit, have “not been considered” in the climate change debate.

“Youth were mentioned once in Kyoto,” he says. “I said: ‘How old are you going to be in 2050? You might not still be here, but it’s your children who are going to suffer because of your actions now.'”

World leaders were unwilling to take political risks regarding the environment, Axam speculates, because the populations they represented were not yet aware enough of the issues at stake.

“Like a CEO accountable to shareholders, a democratically-elected politician has to care what people think of them. But taking risks isn’t fashionable, and people don’t like to sacrifice for the greater good.”

If politicians were accountable to their populace, then one solution was to “create awareness in citizens.”

“When I was interviewing people [in the Maldives] 90% didn’t know what carbon neutrality means,” he says.

“The Maldives has pledged to become carbon neutral in the next 10 years – people need to understand what it means when their energy switches over to wind power.”

As a small nation of only 360,000 people, the Maldives is ideally placed to become “a showcase country” for the rest of the world, Axam argues.

“We can effectively work together in a way we couldn’t if we were four million,” he says.

The youth climate ambassadors can help keep up the momentum, he proposed, by setting up “a chain” of ambassadors across the islands and atolls who could increase people’s awareness of environmental issues and interest in the natural world.

As for his own plans, Axam says he is now reviewing his original plan to become a pilot.

“I was studying physics and science and all of that, but since the issue of climate change has popped into my life I’ve started studying biology and now it’s my favourite subject of all.”